Thanks to a spirited performance by Lawrence Westbrook, the Gophers Tuesday night stymied a second half Penn State rally and took the Big Ten opener over the NIttany Lions 75-70.
Westbrook deserves all the accolades he is receiving after the 29 point performance. The senior guard played a composed brand of basketball, hit open shots, took the ball to the hoop and put the Gophers on his back during a back-and-forth second half. Westbrook hit 4-of-6 from three and 11-of-16 from the field (68 percent is quite awesome for a shooting guard).
The Gophers needed every bit of Westbrook's effort, as the Nittany Lions dismantled Minnesota's 7 point halftime lead quickly in the second half. Talor Battle led Penn State with 23 points, including 5-for-8 from downtown (one of his threes came from Chris Kingsbury territory.
The Gophers seemed to have control of the game in the first half, leading by double-digits at many points. They were able to do this by moving the ball quickly on offense to get the ball inside for close looks. But the easy offense dried up early in the second half as the Nittany Lions increased their defensive pressure and turned to a 2-3 zone to force the then cold shooting Gophers to the perimeter.
Soon enough though the Gophers were able to quicken the pace of the game and make a couple threes in transition. Blake Hoffarber hit a key three midway through the second half to tie the game. Hoffarber continued his hot shooting and finished with 11 points good for the second highest on the team.
It was that transition offense and full-court pressure defense that eventually won the day for the Gophers. The Gophers had 11 steals to Penn State's 4. Penn State had 16 turnovers to Minnesota's 8. And the Gophers recorded 5 blocks (Ralph Sampson III had 4 of them) to Penn State's 0. When numbers look like that at the end of Big Ten games, more times than not the Gophers are going to win.
It was a nice win for the Gophers to open Big Ten play, but they'll head to Iowa this weekend for a game they really do need to win on the road.
Some other quick hitters:
- ** Justin Cobbs played his best game as a Gopher, in my opinion. He took the floor for 16 minutes including a crucial stretch 5 minutes into the first half. Cobbs led the reserves on a lengthy run to build a Minnesota lead. He showed the ability to defend Big Ten guards but also to find his own offense. His ability to recognize that he can take the ball to the basket when opponents aren't stopping the ball was a great sign. Also loved his little baby jump hook--wouldn't have imagined that was in his repertoire.
- ** Al Nolen played very well. He was able to penetrate when he wanted to to get to the basket and either draw a foul or dish. Nolen's ability to penetrate down the stretch helped the Gophers ice the game. He led the team with 6 assists. No other played had more than one.
- ** The 1990 Gophers and Clem Haskins were honored at halftime and the reports indicate Clem Haskins received a positive ovation. Good for him, the university and its fans to turn the page. The ceremony is online here, but you'll have to pay to watch it. And that's a shame. I'm sure the athletic department is trying to make a few bucks anyway it can, but this strikes me as something long-time Minnesota fans might like to see outside of the confines of "premium" programming.
- ** While the Gophers were better than usual in their half-court offense Tuesday night, the team again went through stretches--particularly in the beginning of the second half--where there was more standing around then movement on offense. When PSU went to a zone, it took the Gophers a few possessions to find any rhythm on offense.
- ** Damian Johnson didn't seem quite himself. He's always been a tad tentative on offense but he seemed extra jittery last night. DJ Swat needs to take some of that attitude he plays defense with and use it on offense.
- ** The Gophers played 10 players 9 minutes or more. Devron Bostick didn't play. Hoffarber played 30 minutes to lead the team.
- ** Westbrook's 29 points came in 29 minutes. Battle's 23 points came in 40 minutes.